Revered by fans as a rebel rocker, the charismatic frontman for the Doors continues to have an impact on pop culture – whether parents like it or not.
In some ways, Jim Morrison, who died July 3, 1971, is still very much alive. Revered by fans as a rebel rocker, the charismatic frontman for the Doors was known for his serpentine dance moves and seemingly endless sex appeal. He was notorious during his lifetime – for his indecent exposure arrest and for performing while under the obvious influence of alcohol, among other things. His Washington Post obituary noted that Morrison exemplified onstage “everything most adults found distasteful about rock music and the youth culture.”
But Morrison continues to have an impact on pop culture – whether parents like it or not. Legacy presents 10 interesting tidbits about Morrison’s life and death. Some may be familiar, but we hope at least a few will surprise you:
1. The Doors took their name from Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book “The Doors of Perception” which details the author’s experiences using the drug mescaline. Huxley had drawn the title from a line in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” a poem written by William Blake around 1790. That line reads, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
2. Morrison, the son of a Navy officer, lived in various U.S. states while growing up, eventually graduating from George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1961. The Mamas and the Papas singer Cass Elliot, attended the same school. Morrison was an intellectual and avid reader, something easily seen in his writings and poetry. He asked his parents for the complete works of Friedrich Nietzsche as a graduation gift.
3. Morrison met keyboardist Ray Manzarek when both were students at UCLA. They added a drummer and guitarist and became a band. The Doors signed with Elektra Records in 1966 and released their self-titled debut a year later. The debut single, “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” made little impact, never getting into Billboard’s top 100. But the second single, “Light My Fire,” sat atop the Billboard music charts for three weeks. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine put the song at No. 35 in its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
4. The Doors performed “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1967. Prior to the performance, Morrison had agreed to not sing the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” because sponsors were worried about the reference to drugs. He sang amended lyrics in a rehearsal, “Girl, we couldn’t get much better,” then the actual lyrics on live television. Sullivan did not shake Morrison’s hand as he left the stage and the band never appeared on the show again.
5. Many artists have since covered “Light My Fire,” including Jose Feliciano who won a Grammy in 1968 for his version of the song. Buick asked to use the song in a television commercial for its Opel, changing the lyrics to, “Come on, Buick, light my fire.” Morrison was in Europe at the time and hard to contact, but the three other band members agreed to the commercial use. When Morrison learned of the deal, he threatened to sue General Motors and destroy an Opel with a sledgehammer if the commercial appeared. It was never made.
6. Morrison’s official Elektra biography stated his parents were deceased. He told acquaintances he was an orphan. On the song “The End,” he sang about killing his father to have a relationship with his mother.
7. But George and Clara Morrison were not dead and, in fact, outlived their son by many years. Clara died in 2005, her husband in 2008. Before his death, George Morrison spoke to the author of the authorized biography “The Doors by The Doors” and appears on the DVD “When You’re Strange.” “We look back on him with great delight,” the older Morrison says on camera. He also speculates that his son distanced himself from his family because, “I had the feeling that he felt we’d just as soon not be associated with his career. He knew I didn’t think rock music was the best goal for him. Maybe he was trying to protect us.”
8. An anagram of Morrison’s name is “Mr. Mojo Risin'” the words he sings repeatedly on the title track of the Doors’ sixth studio album, “L.A. Woman,” released in 1971. The alias was essential to a Morrison plan to disappear for years and then emerge. As the BBC noted on the 40th anniversary of Morrison’s death, the singer “told several friends that he was planning to fake his death and live in isolation in Africa, from where he would eventually contact them using his pseudonym. But 40 years on there is still no word from Mr. Mojo Risin’.”
9. Morrison is a founding member of the 27 Club, one of the five rock stars who died between the years 1969 and 1971 at age 27. (The other original members are Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones, Canned Heat singer Alan Wilson, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.) In 1994 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana killed himself at 27. In 2011 singer Amy Winehouse died at 27.
10. Morrison is buried in Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Over the years, various grave markers – including one put in place by the French government and a sculpture by a Croatian artist – have been stolen. To mark the 20th anniversary of Morrison’s death, his parents placed a marker at the site. In Greek, it reads, “Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy,” which has been translated as “True to himself,” “According to his own spirit” or “True to his own spirit.” In “When You’re Strange,” George Morrison said he was honored his son was buried near cultural giants like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Frederic Chopin.
Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she’s now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, “Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone’s world that we’re often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we’re alive.”